Amid tension over corporate tax affairs, public looks to a new role for companies

The past week has seen an escalating war of words between big business and policymakers over the taxes paid by multinationals. Apple and Google came under fire from UK and US legislators, while European leaders pledged concerted action to close tax loopholes. However, GlobeScan’s 2013 polling reveals that for the global public, payment of taxes is the bare minimum they expect of companies.
Across 24 countries, around a quarter (23%) say they believe that companies’ main responsibility is to pay taxes and provide employment. This is outweighed by the more than one in three (35%) who say they want to see companies set ethical standards and improve society. Thirty-three percent say that their views fall between these two positions.
Attitudes differ by country, sometimes in unexpected ways. Just 13 percent of Britons feel that companies’ primary responsibilities are restricted to paying tax and providing jobs. This low level is likely to be influenced by recent renewed questioning over corporate responsibilities sparked by debates over tax avoidance in the UK. Even among Americans, traditionally quite resistant to the idea of companies being made to work for social change, one in four says they want to see companies go beyond their traditional social role. In Germany, meanwhile, 12 percent say they have no expectations of companies at all.
A curiosity of the wrangle over taxes is that it has so far disproportionately involved technology companies, such as Amazon, Apple, and Google. This industry has consistently enjoyed positive public ratings on social responsibility. Our latest tracking suggests this good reputation continues, though whether it can be maintained is debatable, given that payment of taxes seems to be the lowest expectation that citizens have of companies. Whatever the outcome of recent moves against tax avoidance, these findings suggest that such initiatives may have already been superseded by public opinion, which is increasingly looking for companies to deliver a more ethical approach and help shape a new vision for society.
This post was written by former GlobeScan Research Director, Sam Mountford.